16 Aug 2012

Raymond Carver: Master Storyteller

3 Comments Book Reviews, New and Exciting, What You Should Read

You could write a story about this ashtray, for example, and a man and a woman. But the man and the woman are always the two poles of your story. The North Pole and the South. Every story has these two poles. –A.P. Chekhov

When we sat down to write this blog we struggled with how to best describe Raymond Carver’s spare yet powerful writing style. A short story master, his work explores loss, loneliness, despair and anxiety without an ounce of sentimentality. Nothing is ever over-written. His prose strikes exactly the right notes and hits the reader with an exacting punch.  But who better to describe good writing than Carver himself? In “On Writing,” he states:

It’s possible, in a poem or a short story, to write about commonplace things and objects using commonplace but precise language, and to endow those things–a chair, a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a woman’s earring–with immense, even startling power. It is possible to write a line of seemingly innocuous dialogue and have it send a chill along the reader’s spine….that’s the kind of writing that most interests me…..In Isaac Babel’s wonderful short story “Guy de Maupassant,” the narrator has this to say about the writing of fiction: “No iron can pierce the heart with such force as a period put just at the right place.” This ought to go on a three-by-five.

With these thoughts in mind, we will explore three of Carver’s best stories next week at Books and Books: “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” “Where I’m Calling From,” and “A Small Good Thing.”  Questions we will consider include:

  • Do Carver’s characters learn or grow from their experiences?
  • How do they express themselves? Do they understand their emotions and limitations?
  • Is Carver’s minimalist style appropriate for conveying his themes?
  • What kind of characters appeal to Carver and why?
  • Does Carver sympathize with the working class man and woman?
  • Is Carver using his fiction to convey a message?
  • How does he create tension?
We are looking forward to a lively discussion. If you are unable to join us, please visit the blog for a recap of the session or to post your comments.



written by
Lisa Forman Rosen is an avid reader and facilitator of book clubs in Miami, Florida. She has worked at the University of Miami since 1986, first in the Department of English Composition as a lecturer and now at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine as a writer. Lisa created this site to share her love of literature with others and expand the conversation into the virtual world.

3 Comments for“Raymond Carver: Master Storyteller”

  1. Reply Pamela Rosen Lear says:

    Lisa –

    I really enjoyed the short story session last night. You brought a nice touch of academia to the discussion that elevated it a bit above a standard book group discussion. Thanks to the conversation, I definitely have more appreciation for Carver’s work, the subtle ways he imbues the story with depth and meaning. His “spare prose” allowed me to focus more clearly on specific experiences without a lot of external distraction. Very interesting.

    I’m curious … what is the big book you were referring to? The information you pulled from it was so interesting, I’d like to find something like that for my own interest.

    I look forward to the group next week; I’m already a fan of Englander’s work. I’m sure it will be another lively discussion.

    Thank you – –

    Pamela Lear

    • Reply Lisa says:

      I am so glad you joined us. Your contributions were excellent and I look forward to your thoughts on Englander.
      The book I brought is an anthology from my teaching days. I will bring it next week so you can glance at it.
      Thank you for coming!

  2. Reply Jane Allen Petrick says:

    Dear Lisa,
    As you know, I am more of a nonfiction than a fiction fan. Yet Raymond Carver has been one of my reread standbys for more than thirty years. “Caver writes about the road of life when the road turns to dirt.”, one critic observed, as laconically and completed as a Carver line itself.
    Sorry I missed the short story session – I’m still playing hippie in the hills of Woodstock..

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